This essay tracks the discourse of “Oriental writing” in Ha Jin’s fictional Korean War memoir War Trash and the autobiography of Wang Tsun-ming, an actual Korean War POW. “Oriental writing” designates a racialized ambiguity between a self-present subject and an automatized mechanism. This ambiguity, I argue, can have salutary effects. In attenuating the boundaries between subject, object, and device, “Oriental writing” renders inoperable the “politics of representation” through which race has been thought. I use the term tone to designate the sensory effect of the racialized indistinction between subject and mechanism, voice and noise. Tone, in my case studies, indexes failed acts of representation. Wang’s tone is excessively animated, insofar as a compensatory liveliness exceeds Wang’s own person. By contrast, the tone of War Trash is neutral. In approximating “Asian” through noise rather than essence, a neutral tone undercuts the management and representation of race in our post-Cold War present.
Sunny Xiang; Race, Tone, and Ha Jin’s “Documentary Manner”. Comparative Literature 1 March 2018; 70 (1): 72–92. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-4344086
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